Fourteen-year-old John Lewis said his eyes have been opened in regard to the First Nation’s culture on Prince Edward Island.
Lewis, a student at Ecole Francois-Buote, was one of the students from three Island schools that took part in the inaugural Mawi’omi Day on Thursday at Abegweit First Nation in Scotchfort. Mawi’omi means gathering.
Students from Ecole Francois-Buote, Stonepark Intermediate School and Mount Stewart Consolidated School were there to gain perspective, knowledge and to start the working progress of reconciliation. They were given the chance to meet community members, participate in cultural activities and enjoy traditional food while celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day.
“I feel extremely lucky that I had the opportunity to be here and learn and just meet all these amazing people and learn about this amazing culture and appreciate it more,’’ John said. “It’s definitely under-appreciated and under-rated.’’
Kindra Bernard, co-ordinator for the event, said before Mawi’omi Day there was an in-school educational component to teach students about the effects of colonization, the Sixties Scoop (where Indigenous children were taken from their families and communities and placed in foster homes or adoption) and the residential school system of Indigenous people.
John said that was the real eye-opener for him and many other students.
“Honestly, until about two years ago, I had no idea about any of this. I had no idea about any of the residential schools, but I think it’s great that we’re actually learning about it,’’ the youngster said. “It’s important that we learn about it so that history doesn’t repeat itself.’’
“We have to find a way to erase the stereotype of First Nation reserves and show people that it’s not what the history books say; that it’s a proud, young vibrant First Nation. It’s reconciliation at its finest and we hope to have more of these types of events in the future.’’
-Abegweit First Nation Chief Brian Francis
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Beyond the in-school component, Mawi’omi Day involved immersing students in the Mi’kmaq culture by hosting them at the Abegweit reserve and demonstrating the culture.
There was a demonstration on how the Mi’kmaq people cooked bannock by the youth of the Epekwitk Garden & Preserves while talking stick-making facilitator elder Barbara Bernard led students in creating their own talking stick.
Barbara Bernard also facilitated the Seven Grandfather Teachings, representing the traditional concepts of respect and sharing, teachings of love, humility, honesty, wisdom, courage, truth and respect. There was also some drumming and dancing.
Tara MacLean, a well-known Island entertainer, helped create the event.
“(Abegweit First Nation) Chief (Brian) Francis and I are friends and he made a wish that one day people would come to Scotchfort to the reserve and get to know the Mi’kmaq culture,’’ MacLean said. “The first part is the educational component so we worked on curriculum that really give the kids an understanding of why there is a reserve in the first place, what happened at the residential schools and how colonialism still affects the first people of this land.’’
Maxime Duguay, a teacher at Ecole Francois-Buote, said it was a worthwhile endeavour for the students.
“This is all in the process of reconciliation and truth,’’ said Duguay. “Although we have been living with Mi’kmaq (people) since hundreds of years (ago) we don’t know much about them. I think the goal today is to understand more about Mi’kmaq culture to finally be able to live together.’’
Francis called Mawi’omi Day a proud day for Abegweit First Nation.
“We have to find a way to erase the stereotype of First Nation reserves and show people that it’s not what the history books say; that it’s a proud, young vibrant First Nation,’’ Francis said. “It’s reconciliation at its finest and we hope to have more of these types of events in the future.’’